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How to Handle Difficult Conversations With Employees

How to Handle Difficult Conversations With Employees

April 5, 2023

As a small business owner, you tend to take on a lot of the tasks that you wish you could outsource – things like marketing, accounting, and even a few HR tasks. It’s your responsibility to make sure things run smoothly and is handled in a professional and effective manner, like when you need to have difficult conversations with employees.

How do you handle these difficult conversations? You communicate in a clear and concise manner, address any concerns or questions without pressure, and have an “actionable” step at the end. Let’s dive in:

What is a “Difficult” Conversation to Have With Your Employees?

A difficult conversation to have with your employees is not limited to letting them go, in fact, you’ll likely have multiple difficult conversations during the time an employee is with your business. 

Difficult conversations can range from changes in your business to performance expectations, wages, changes in benefits, etc. It’s really anything that may make you or your employee uncomfortable to discuss. Some specific situations may be:

  • Discussing performance issues and expectations
  • Changes in benefits like medical which directly affect their finances
  • Uncontrollable situations, such as wage garnishment

The longer you’re in business and the more difficult conversations you have over time, the more comfortable you’ll be. Until then, follow these three simple tips for handling difficult conversations with your employees:

#1. Communicate in a Clear and Concise Manner

When we feel uncomfortable, we tend to try and make small talk to “level” with the person in front of us or attempt to diffuse the uncomfortable feeling. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, you’re making the situation worse. Treat your employee as you’ve always treated them, but clearly explain why you’re having the conversation and what the situation is. 

Additionally, you want to use neutral language. For example, if the conversation is about performance, address what the issue is without using terms like “bad” or “poor.”

#2. Address Concerns and Questions

Be prepared to answer any questions and address any concerns. As the person in charge of handling these situations, you’ll need to be able to address any why, how, or when questions that pop up. If it’s something that is out of your control, have information on hand for who they can contact or where they can find additional information or resources.

#3. Have an Actionable Ending

While it might not be possible for all conversations – like conversations that are mainly meant to inform – you want your employee to have a next step after your conversation. Do they need additional training? Is there a task to complete? Do they need to fill out any paperwork?

Make sure that whatever is impacted, you have a clear course of action for them to take. Don’t leave it up to guesswork – you’ll have more issues in the future if you do. Plus, clear directions and a course of action have been proven to lower employee turnover. 

If you still feel like handling difficult conversations with your employees is not something you’re ready – or comfortable doing – it may be time to outsource your HR. Not sure if your business is financially prepared to handle HR? Connect with a ModVentures advisor to determine what your best decision is based on your financials.


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